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February 3, 2020

"What Would a World Without Prisons Be Like?"

The question in the title of this post is the title of this recent piece from The New Yorker.  Of course, the question does not lend itself to an easy answer, and this piece includes a 20+-minute podcast to dig deeper.  Here is how the segment is previewed:

Mass incarceration is now widely regarded as a prejudiced and deeply harmful set of policies.  Bipartisan support exists for some degree of criminal-justice reform, and, in some circles, the idea of prison abolition is also gaining traction.  Kai Wright, the host of the WNYC podcast “The United States of Anxiety,” spoke about the movement with Paul Butler, a law professor and former federal prosecutor who saw firsthand the damage that prosecution causes, and sujatha baliga, a MacArthur Foundation fellow and a survivor of sexual violence who leads the Restorative Justice Project at the nonprofit Impact Justice.

“Prison abolition doesn’t mean that everybody who’s locked up gets to come home tomorrow,” Butler explains.  Instead, activists envision a gradual process of “decarceration,” and the creation of alternative forms of justice and harm reduction.  “Abolition, to my mind, isn’t just about ending the prisons,” baliga adds. “It’s about ending binary processes which pit us as ‘us, them,’ ‘right, wrong’; somebody has to be lying, somebody’s telling the truth. That is not the way that we get to healing.”

February 3, 2020 at 09:22 AM | Permalink


If there are no prisons, what does one do with Dylan Roof?

Posted by: William C Jockusch | Feb 3, 2020 9:34:29 AM

The lead in to the article, “Mass incarceration is now widely regarded as a prejudiced and deeply harmful set of policies.” One has to wonder what is the population to which the author refers. If the author is claiming that the nation widely views incarceration in America today as mass, prejudiced, and deeply harmful then I seriously question the rest of the piece. Academics do, the voters don’t.

These abolish prisons pitches are very vague on details and that is where the idea falls apart Those same people who they claim, wrongly I might add, that feel mass incarceration exists as a product of prejudice will see that in order to accomplish the abolish prison objective we have to abandon punishment for all crime and only incarcerate those who are physically dangerous. That goes against human nature. It won’t happen and, quite frankly, it is silly to think it will. Humans respond to incentives. The threat of punishment is a powerful incentive.

Humans also are strongly drawn to perceptions of fairness even in the face of net negative outcomes. The public simply will not stand for thieves and rule breakers getting a lecture and public services when the law abiding get nothing but still have to endure the revolving cycle of failures and there will be failures.

Posted by: David | Feb 3, 2020 11:18:38 PM

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